For the second straight season, the battle between Pomona and Mullen headlines the big school zero-week football schedule.  Pomona is ranked second in Class 5A to open the season with Mullen checking in at number four.  They join top rated Valor Christian (5A), #8 Columbine (5A), #9 Highlands Ranch (5A) and #7 Fruita Monument (4A) as pre-season top ten clubs in action in the state’s largest two classifications.
Pomona held off Mullen 28-21 a year ago and both teams return plenty of firepower from that game this season.  The Panthers, which have lost to Valor Christian in the state finals the past two years, return talented QB Ryan Marquez (2,212 yards passing — 20 TD’s), running back Max Borghi (824 yards rushing) and receiver Billy Pospisil (71 catches — 11 TD’s).  Marquez threw for 233 yards and three scores in last year’s win, Borghi totaled 141 yards of offense and Pospisil caught eight passes for 74 yards and a touchdown.
Mullen’s Dominic Depizzol started last year’s game in place of the injured Jovan Tafoya and he completed eight passes in his first ever varsity start.  He finished the season with 934 yards and 11 scores while splitting time with the now graduated Tafoya.  Expect Depizzol to seek out the talented A Jon Vivens in the passing game as the senior is among the top big play threats in Class 5A after totaling 60 receptions for 1,087 yards and 10 touchdowns a year ago.  That tandem will be very important in the early going as the Mustangs look to establish a running game following the loss of Marcus McElroy (1,175 yards) and Shammond Hamilton (851) to graduation.
Defensively, Mullen may have the advantage as Pomona lost their top nine tacklers from last year’s group.   Nathan Dietrick, with 64 tackles, was third best on the Mullen defense a year ago and he also compiled 17 tackles for loss and seven sacks.  Pomona’s top returning tackler is Mateo Crespin with 37 stops last season.
Top ranked and defending state champion Valor Christian continues their early season tradition of facing high quality out of state opponents.  This Friday the Eagles welcome in Faith Lutheran from Las Vegas Nevada.   Valor, which is already tied for 8th all-time in Colorado with seven state crowns, went 1-1 against such competition last year beating Greater Atlanta Christian and falling to Saguaro Arizona.
Coach Rod Sherman’s team lost talented QB Dylan McCaffrey to graduation and the University of Michigan but they remain well stocked there.  Both Luke McCaffrey and Blake Stenstrom have Division 1 offers and may split time there this season.  Stenstrom threw for 500 yards and seven scores on just 74 attempts last season while McCaffrey spent most of 2016 at wide receiver leading the team with 47 catches, 717 yards and nine touchdowns.
Another big threat is Josiah Davis.  He led Valor Christian in rushing (869 yards) last season and caught 39 passes for 429 yards while overall scoring 15 touchdowns.  The defensive unit is also strong with returnees Matthew Thibault (team leading 78 tackles), Ethan Zemla (64) and Noah Kuzma (53) all expected back in the lineup.
Columbine could have a difficult opener with Ralston Valley on Friday.  Both teams reached the post-season in 2016 but both have holes to fill.  They did not play last year as they picked up this game for 2017 after spending zero week a year ago with out-of-state competition.  Ralston Valley lost QB Salvetti D’Ascoli (1,463 yards) to graduation and Columbine must replace talented signal caller Mikey Griebel who combined for 24 touchdowns and nearly 14-hundred yards of offense.
Highlands Ranch looks to continue its recent climb.  The Falcons won just one game in 2015 but jumped to seven wins and a playoff appearance a year ago.  They open with Smoky Hill and will be expected to get the win.  Coach Mark Robinson’s team returns QB Joseph Adler (1,226 yards passing) and two receivers who ended last season with more than 20 catches, Dominic Bettini and Ray Robinson.
Rivalry games headline the 4A schedule as #7 Fruita Monument heads to Montrose and Palisade (3A #8) meets Grand Junction Central out west while in the Colorado Springs region, Rampart tangles with Liberty.
For Fruita Monument head coach Todd Casebier, this is the third meeting with Montrose after departing the Indians program before the 2015 season.  His Wildcats have made the playoffs each of his first two years in Fruita and they’re ranked seventh to open the 4A schedule.  Getting to the post-season last year was difficult as the Wildcats lost their first two games before winning seven of eight.  Their season ended with a hard fought 36-28 loss to Chatfield in the state quarterfinals.
Montrose topped Fruita Monument 33-27 last year but still failed to earn a post-season trip.  The Indians ended up 5-5 but have some momentum to build on after winning their final three games by a combined 131-36 score.
In beating Fruita Monument last year, the Indians rolled up 347 yards rushing including 274 from Riley Freeland.  Freeland has since graduated but the next four rushers from last year return to the Montrose line including Cade Atwood (584 yards) and QB Caleb Egbert (354).  Atwood also leads the defensive returnees with 55 tackles.
Fruita Monument likely turns to Zach Rush as their full-time quarterback this season.  He threw for 108 yards and two scores against Montrose last season and finished the year with 547 yards and five touchdowns in shared duties.  Braeden Graham (1,633 yards rushing — 11 TD’s) is another key returnee for Fruita and he ran for 129 yards in this matchup a year ago.
Both Grand Junction Central and Palisade seek leadership from new signal callers this year as both lost quality starters to graduation.  EJ Barrera led Central in both passing yards (2,789) and rushing yards (767) a year ago and his backups combined for only seven pass attempts all season.  Palisade must find a replacement for PJ Riddle who led the Bulldogs in both categories as well, totaling 1,198 yards through the air and 1,011 on the ground.  He was also involved in 30 TD’s.  His successor could easily be younger brother Christian but the junior attempted just one pass a year ago.
Central is in good shape at other skill positions as Cade Balleweg (658 yards rushing), Ryan Weller (35 receptions) and Trey Ehlers (26 catches) all return.  The defense should be even better than a year ago as five players, Joey Estep, Anthony Zubiate, Wes Holdren, Tanner Hickey and Shaun Stepisnik all return to camp after recording at least 108 tackles apiece last year.
Terrance Williams (71 tackles), Danny Tate (67) and Austin Bernal (59) are back to lead the always physical Palisade defense.  Bernal is also a key returnee on offense after generating 841 yards and 12 scores on the ground last year.
Following their 8-3 record and playoff berth a year ago, we’re a bit surprised Rampart did not receive top ten billing to open the campaign.  The Rams were run oriented a year ago and with the return of Keion Cross (781 yards rushing) and Jackson Beale (619), the philosophy should remain the same.  Beale ran for 104 yards and two scores and Cross 72 and a TD in last year’s 42-14 win over Liberty.  Chris Schockey (73), Jared Behm (58) and Seth Sheppard (56) all finished in the top five for tackles a year ago and return to head up the Rams defense.
Liberty (3-7) has not recorded a winning season since 2009 when they won nine games.  They’ve won more than three games just twice since but the Lancers could be on the upswing this year with the return of Trevor Halverson.  He threw for 1,150 yards and 11 TD’s a year ago and is back with a year of experience under his belt.  Two top receivers also return as Ryan O’Connell and Shawn Bossert combined for 40 receptions, 395 yards and five scores last season.
The complete zero-week schedule for all teams can be found in the Football menu of our website.  Just click Football, then Daily Scoreboard and pick the date of your choice.  Once the games pop up they can easily be sorted by class and conference.  Season previews for all seven classifications will also be published this week.